The company identified 1,045
blockchain-related U.S. patents, including patents previously awarded and those
pending. While blockchain-specific companies, such as the online cryptocurrency
exchange Coinbase, predictably held most (59 percent) of the patents, approximately
one in five patents was owned by a financial services company, making this the next-largest
Patent ownership was concentrated among a
few financial companies that dominated the list of top-10 patent owners. Bank
of America came out on top, with 43 patents — roughly 4 percent of all
blockchain-related patents owned or applied for in the United States. The study
revealed that Mastercard has filed for 27 patents, while Fidelity Investments
and TD Bank also featured among the top-10 patent holders.
Financial services firms have been among
blockchain technology’s most fervent supporters from the start. The International
Monetary Fund cited
distributed ledgers’ potential for providing faster, cheaper financial services
in early 2016. A year later, research revealed that financial services
executives saw huge potential in blockchain technology.
Bank of America has been enthusiastic about
blockchain technology for several years. Bitcoin
that the bank had filed for a patent for cryptocurrency-based wire transfers as
early as 2015.
The bank had already filed 15
blockchain-related patents as
of January 2016 and was planning another 20 at the time. At that time, Bank
of America’s Chief Operations and Technology Officer Catherine Bessant said
that it was important for the company to stake its claim in the blockchain
space, even if it wasn’t sure of the commercial applications.
Many of the early use cases for financial
institutions revolved around managing back-end processes. Speeding up
transaction settlements was a common talking point in the early days as well.
Bank of America has filed for at least one blockchain-related patent
addressing process authorization and settlement.
Nevertheless, not all Bank of America’s
patents focus purely on back-end processing. Others filed by the company include
a blockchain-based system for person-to-person
alias-based payments and a transparent, self-managing
rewards program using blockchains and smart contracts.
Maulin V. Shah, managing attorney at
Envision IP, who worked on the report, found one or two surprises in the data.
“We had heard a lot about traditional
companies in the banking and financial services sector being interested in
blockchain over the past couple of years, but I was still a bit surprised at
the lack of publicly available patent applications by traditional technology
companies,” he said.
Traditional technology firms had filed only
13 percent of the patents awarded or pending, according to Envision IP’s data.
In other words, for every patent in this area owned by a traditional software
or hardware firm, the financial services sector owned around 4.5.
One reason for the poor showing among tech
firms is that they may have filed patents that Envision IP couldn’t yet see.
Patent filings are not published until 18 months after their initial filing in
the U.S., and many more are probably currently working their way through the
“If, for any reason over the last 12 to 18
months, technology companies had a surge in filing, we wouldn’t know that, and
it wouldn’t show up in our findings,” reported Shah. “Conversely, it would show
that these companies are somewhat late to the game in terms of filing their
One traditional tech firm bucked the trend.
With 27 patents to its name, IBM was the joint second-largest holder of U.S.
blockchain-related patents. That statistic is unsurprising, given the firm’s
concentration on blockchain technology as a core strategy. IBM is a key member of the
Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger
project and contributed source code to its interoperable distributed ledger